In Defense of Desire

The Theology of James Alison

It is said that there are two kinds of theologians: those whose subject is theology, and those whose subject is God. James Alison studies God. Best known as a “gay theologian,” for his extensive writings on homosexuality, Alison is a priest no longer attached to a diocese or religious order—in his own word, a “nonperson” canonically.

Born in Britain in 1959, Alison was raised as an Evangelical and became a Catholic at eighteen. He entered the Dominicans in 1981, was ordained in 1988, and, after studies in Oxford, completed his doctoral dissertation (on original sin) at the Jesuit theological faculty in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Alison left the Dominican Order in 1995 under pressure from many of its South American leaders (the circumstances are not fully explained in his writings); a few months later, he suffered his lover’s death from AIDS. Apart from occasional teaching positions in Latin America and the United States, he has since been a peripatetic lecturer and retreat-giver—returning, he has wryly commented, to the mendicant vocation of an original Dominican, itinerantly preaching and begging for money.

Inevitably, as a gay theologian, Alison has been a controversial figure. Some detractors condemn him as one of the “lavender spin doctors” who interpreted Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical,...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Christopher Ruddy is associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America.